UJC halts aid to Falash Mura in Ethiopia

American Jewry's chief fundraising arm says it's following Israeli gov't's lead, funds have run out.

falash mura 224 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
falash mura 224
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
The United Jewish Communities (UJC), the chief fundraising arm of American Jewry, officially halted its sponsorship of aid programs in northern Ethiopia last week, The Jerusalem Post has learned. The funds provided relief to thousands of Falash Mura hoping to make aliya under Israel's Law of Entry. For the past three years, the UJC provided funding for the North American Conference on Ethiopian Jewry (NACOEJ) to sponsor food distribution, nutritional programs and medical relief in the African country's Gondar region. An estimated 12,000 Falash Mura take advantage of the aid programs while they wait for the Israeli government to allow them to immigrate. In an internal memo recently sent to executives of the nineteen largest federations in the UJC system, UJC President and CEO Howard Rieger informed the federations that funds raised in a special campaign dubbed Operation Promise (OP), which was intended in part to help Ethiopian Jewry, have run out. "I have just informed NACOEJ that we are now running out of OP funds. We expect that these funds will be completely depleted by May 31," Rieger wrote. He also pointed out that the "government of Israel plans to end the current flow of Falash Mura from Ethiopia to Israel in early June, even while over 8,000 others who claim to be eligible remain in Ethiopia, seeking entry to Israel. At some point that will clearly become a political issue." Advocates for the Ethiopian Jews have already expressed their dismay at the UJC decision, warning that ending funding might provoke a humanitarian crisis for those currently relying on its assistance. "It is very painful for the community that the UJC is going to stop providing the minimum assistance for these future citizens of Israel still in Ethiopia," said Avraham Neguise, chairman of advocacy group South Wing to Zion and head of the coalition of Ethiopian organizations in Israel. "Thousands of people in Gondar who receive daily meals, including children under six, nursing and pregnant mothers, they will all have to go to sleep on an empty stomach." UJC's senior vice president and director-general of its Israel operations, Nachman Shai, confirmed to the Post that UJC was winding up its work in the African nation. "We are following the lead of the Israeli government," he said. "If the activities of the Israeli government are completed then so are ours. Our aim is to help Jewish communities around the world and to bring those eligible under the laws of this country on Aliya." Barbara Ribakove Gordon, director of NACOEJ, which is in the process of building a Jewish school in Gondar, said that the UJC's withdrawal would be a tragedy. "Right away we'll have to stop giving regular food distributions to the community - that means no food for families, for sick people, for old people, everyone. All over right now," she said. Falash Mura are descendants of Ethiopian Jews who converted to Christianity, often under duress, in the 19th century. Tens of thousands of them have returned to Judaism over the past two decades and made aliyah.